What is Cleft?

Clefts are a common birth defect. In fact, globally, 1 in every 700 children are born with a cleft lip and/or palate.

  • What is cleft lip and/or palate?

    A cleft occurs when certain body parts and structures do not fuse together during fetal development. Clefts can involve the lip and/or the roof of the mouth (palate).

  • How common are clefts?

    There are varying opinions on the actual incidence of clefts, but most experts agree that, in part, it depends on ethnicity. Some experts say that the highest cleft incidences are among Asians (approximately 1 in 500 births). Caucasians have an average incidence of 1 in 700 births, and individuals of African descent have the lowest incidence of approximately 1 in 1,200 births.

  • What are the causes of cleft lip and/or palate?

    No one knows exactly, but most experts agree that the causes of cleft lip and/or palate are multifactorial and may include a genetic predisposition, as well as environmental or nutritional factors. In most cases, it is not known what has caused a cleft lip and/or palate, but research is ongoing to better understand the condition.

  • What challenges does a child with an untreated cleft face?

    Not only do most children with untreated clefts live in isolation, making it hard for them to find friends or go to school, but more importantly, children with untreated clefts can have difficulties eating, breathing, and speaking, and are at risk of severe malnutrition.

  • Can clefts be treated?

    Yes, the good news is that clefts are a medical condition that can be treated with reconstructive surgery and patients will see an immediate transformation. However, there are many barriers that children with untreated clefts encounter which may prevent them from receiving the surgery they so desperately need. Lack of information on treatment options, little to no income to cover the cost of surgery, and transportation to treatment centers are just a few of the obstacles. Many communities also face challenges with a lack of equipment and supplies, and a shortage of medical professionals. Smile Train helps address all of these barriers in our local, sustainable cleft programs.

  • How can I help?

    Many patients seek treatment at one of our centers after learning about Smile Train's free cleft care program from someone they know. By sharing Smile Train's work and raising awareness about clefts you can help others overcome barriers to care and further Smile Train's efforts to provide children born with clefts the opportunity to live a full and productive life. You can also donate now to help cover the costs of a cleft surgery and change a child's life forever.